Back in 2007, I first wrote about those Chinese symbols in the image above. They spell “Ke ji feng gong.” This is an update to that older piece, because it seemed appropriate to raise it in the midst of our current political campaign.
“Self-restraint and devotion to public duties; selfless dedication; to serve the public interest wholeheartedly.”
Typically in the translation of Chinese characters, the phrase has a multitude of shadings. It can also mean,
“Place Strict Standards on Oneself in Public Service.”
I found another reference to it as “shared success.” It is sometimes written as “fèng gong kè ji.”
Regardless of which flavour appeals to you, it defines everything that I believe in about municipal political service: we are here to serve the public good; the greater good.
Every member of council should get this emblazoned on our desks, our computers, and our business cards to remind ourselves that our duty is to the greater good, not to serve friends, colleagues or whatever group you may belong to.
Maybe we should get one of the scrolls placed in our council room as an admonition, too.
“Our judgments follow the depravity of our morals and remain sick,” wrote Michel de Montaigne in his essay On Cato the Younger (Essay XXXVII, Book I, Screech translation, Penguin Classics, 2003). That’s quite a condemnation.*
Montaigne opens that essay by quietly commenting, “I do not suffer from that common failing of judging another man by me.” Would that we all had his strength, not to judge others by what we think of ourselves. But he was born long before the age of selfies.
In our more narcissistic age of social media we are all too quick to judge, too quick to anger, too quick to take offence. We react first, strike back immediately, think long after. We treat anyone with different ideas or visions as intruders; trespassers on our internet. We disparage rather than discuss. We hurl invectives and insults rather than ask questions. We slough off civil debate in favour of personal attack.
(Yes, I’ve been reading The Essays again. I never seem to tire of Montaigne; there’s always something in his words to move me, inspire me and make me think. There’s nothing quite so comforting as sitting on the front porch in the late afternoon, under a clear, warm sky, Susan reading beside me, dogs at my feet, while I sip a glass of homemade wine and peruse Montaigne… well, him and a small pile of other books I am also currently reading. Would that these moments could be frozen in time and all afternoons be so comforting and civilized… as blogger J. D Taylor writes, “I will never finish reading Montaigne…”)
I’ve been going door-to-door for the past few weeks in my campaign for re-election. Stumping on the hustings, as it’s called in Canada. Or at least that’s how I’ve always heard it used.
Hustings is an odd, old word, an anachronism that survives, seemingly, only in the world of politics. It comes from the days when England was a series of small kingdoms suffering frequent invasions by the Danes and Vikings. A few of the old Germanic and Norse words have managed to survive in our language, reminder of those distant, violent days.
The first known use, Wikipedia says, in a charter dated 1032 CE. But it probably was in oral use long before that document.
Husting derives from an Old Norse word, “hús” which meant ‘house. ’ It combines with “thing ” to make “hústhing,” which meant a ‘household assembly held by a leader.’ The meeting of the men who were in the household of a noble or royal leader. They would be the noble’s ‘cabinet’ or advisors.
Husting later came to mean more generically any assembly or parliament. In Old English, as the Online Etymology Dictionary tells us, it meant ‘meeting, court’ or ‘tribunal.’
The word appears in Middle English – the language of Chaucer – referring to the highest court of the City of London. From there is begins an odd transformation to mean the platform where the Lord Mayor and aldermen presided. By the early 18th century, it meant any temporary platform on which parliamentary candidates were nominated. And by 1719, it came to mean generally a platform for political speeches.
That evolved into an even more general sense of the election process itself. In England, it still refers to a meeting or an assembly where all candidates are present. Or, as Wikipedia says, “a combination of a debate, speeches or questions from the electors.” You can “go to the hustings” or “attend the hustings” as a member of the audience, or as a politician (Word Wizard notes) you can “hit the hustings” or “take to the hustings.”
I’ve often heard it said candidates are “on the hustings” when on the campaign trail, going door-to-door. This isn’t exactly the sense meant by the term, but calling it “stumping” is equally incorrect if we’re to be true to the etymology (see below).
There are online references to a verbal form too: to hust, although I’ve never encountered it in Canada. The singular form of the noun – husting – seems to have vanished while the plural form survives.
As medicine, reflexology is bunk. Just like iridology and phrenology. Of course, you knew that. But not everyone does.
Reflexology popped up recently in a shared post on Facebook (a popular venue for moving codswallop and cat photos from one user to another at the speed of light…). Coincidentally it appeared right after a post promoting a piece in the New York Review of Books called, The Age of Ignorance.
How apropos. (I’ll get to that NYRB piece in another post, along with some comments about Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows.)
As a massage, reflexology offers the same benefits for your feet as any other type of massage. It’s just not medicine.
Reflexology is based on the unsubstantiated belief that each part of each foot is a mirror site for a part of the body. The big toe, for example, is considered a reflex area for the head. As iridology maps the body with irises, reflexology maps the body with the feet, the right foot corresponding to the right side of the body and the left foot corresponding to the left side of the body. Because the whole body is represented in the feet, reflexologists consider themselves to be holistic health practitioners, not foot doctors.
They’re not doctors at all, but let’s not dwell on correspondence-course graduates handing out medical advice.
Reflexology has almost no potential for direct harm, but its ability to mislead well-meaning people into believing that it can be used for screening for health problems, or that it has real therapeutic value could lead to serious problems…
Penn and Teller chime in on this and related quackery with their usual, acerbic wit:
Each candidate was given three minutes to speak for a spot on Rogers Cable TV recently. Here is what I said (in about two minutes):
Municipal politics is really quite simple. It’s all about people.
Caring about the people you live and work with.
Caring if seniors can afford their taxes. Caring if the sidewalk in front of your neighbour’s house is in good repair.
Caring about parents who had to drive for hours on dark, snowy roads to get their kids to hockey practice in another town because there was no place to play here.
Caring whether the garbage gets picked up, or if there enough places to park your bicycle.
And caring if we have enough doctors and nurses to take care of everyone.
It’s about caring for everyone of every age, and trying to do what’s best so we can all benefit.
It’s also about caring for the places and spaces where people play and work.
Caring about our beautiful parks where you take your dog and your family to.
Caring whether there are empty stores downtown, or if the roads are too bumpy.
Saving a few pieces of green space from development so families don’t lose everything wild and natural around them.
It’s about making sure our trails are safe to ride on. Making sure our streets are safe, and that our homes are safe from fire and vandalism.
It’s about making sure people can afford to live here and that we have industries and business so people can work here, too.
I care about all of these.
But caring alone isn’t enough. You have to do something about it. You need to take action. And that’s what I do as your representative.
I make the decisions I sincerely believe are in the best interests of the whole community.
The decisions that matter most to everyone. Not just to my friends, or my colleagues, or some group I might belong to.
I have the experience to help guide this town through another four years. I have a solid, clear vision of how I want this community to grow and develop. And I am passionate about my role as councillor.
Please re-elect me. I will always put the interests and the needs of the greater good first because that’s what politics means to me.
Thank you for listening and I look forward to your support.
This is the speech I gave at the BIA-ACO all-candidates’ meeting, Wednesday evening. The question all candidates had to answer was, “What is your vision to ensure that Downtown Collingwood thrives as a vital economic and cultural part of our community?” We had two minutes to respond. Here’s what I said:
For our downtown to thrive, it needs people. The town can help bring them here. But it is up to the businesses to draw them in.
People come to any downtown for two main reasons: ambiance and experience.
Collingwood already has good ambiance. We have a beautiful heritage district with attractive streets and buildings. But we should dress up Pine and St. Marie Streets more, and make our alleys and laneways more attractive and useful.
The ambiance will further improve when the waterfront development gets restarted and extends the commercial district right to the water’s edge.
Developing our harbour should be a main priority for the new council. A redeveloped harbour will be a significant economic resource. We should even consider a marina and a shuttle service to bring visitors into the downtown. Boaters and other users are all potential customers.
I also want to investigate restoring the former bingo hall as a community resource. It could become a performance space, an indoor market, or a gallery. That would further beautify our downtown.
As for experiences, we need new events and activities that draw both locals and visitors downtown. The Elvis Festival has proven good for this and has brought us great publicity. But we need others.
Events and culture should be treated as economic issues. We have engaged a new marketing and economic development director to craft strategies for pursuing cultural and event tourism.
We should also promote local food. We could make Collingwood the focus of a regional local food festival.
We should consider turning at least one downtown block into a pedestrian mall for part of the summer, with activities, vendors, buskers and public art.
Working with the BIA and our new business development centre, I believe we can make Collingwood’s downtown even more attractive and exciting than it already is.
And here is my wrap-up statement:
I’ve been the council representative on the BIA board for the last four years. I have enjoyed working with the board and helping set goals and directions for the downtown this term.
We have a great downtown, a beautiful downtown that is the heart of this community. But we cannot rest on our past. We need to work with the BIA, with our new marketing and economic development director, with our heritage groups and with council to keep it thriving, to keep it vital and keep attracting people.
If re-elected, I will help accomplish these goals next term.
In the July/August edition of Pets Magazine (the Cat Care issue) there are two articles that caused me concern. One is “The Loyalty and Bravery of a Cat” (p.28), the other is “Quick-Thinking Cat Saves the Day.” (p.26). The latter is a pet profile from the Purina Hall of Fame that honours pets for “extraordinary actions.” The former is about a YouTube video showing a family cat attacking a dog that had itself attacked the family’s four-year-old son.
The acts themselves and the cats involved are extraordinary and deserving of praise as individual animals. But the idea that cats in general need to be propped up as utility animals, that in order to have intrinsic value they need to perform some service for humans, bothers me deeply.
It also annoys me that cat lovers feel the need to be defensive about cats and find ways to make them seem more like dogs. They are separate species with very different social (pack) cultures and cannot be expected to behave like one another.
All animals evolved to fulfill their own purpose. Some have become domesticated through their interactions with humans; a few are even companion animals we call pets. Dogs and cats top that small list. And a small percentage of those perform acts that are of use or beneficial to humans.
Valuing an animal on the basis of its utility is to devalue the life of that animal. Animals do not exist to serve human needs. Yes, they can be trained to perform tasks, but that isn’t their purpose.
Cats have value simply by being cats. All life has its own inherent value and we cannot measure that value against its usefulness to our lives. Not should not – cannot. There is no appropriate measuring stick.
Any attempt only promotes subjective value judgments over other species. It’s akin to measuring the distance to a neighbouring planet by the number of bicycle lengths between us. Irrelevant.
Value your pet, value all life, for what it is. Not what use, not what advantage and not what profit you can gain from it. And I am happy to share my home with my pets for the sake of their companionship alone.
Thought and deed. Thought and life. How does a person’s life, their upbringing, their daily toil affect their deepest thoughts, their beliefs, faith and passions?
And as outsiders looking in, can we understand a person’s thinking by examining their lives? Can we understand their philosophy that way?
I don’t know. Biographies describe the events of a person’s life, but cannot look into their innermost thoughts. Modern biographies told in conjunction with living people as collaborators may pull the curtains up, letting us see what they want us to see. But dead people?
Most lives are measured in arbitrary milestones that mark various transitions on the roads of our lives. Our tenth birthday. Or thirtieth. Sixtieth. First kiss, Last girl/boyfriend. First car. 100,00th kilometre on the odometer. Fifth anniversary. Tenth. First job, Last job. And so on. Do these events define a person, or are they just convenient places on which to hang memories or to craft stories that reflect the bigger picture?
Most of the biographies I’ve read, most of those that still sit on my bookshelves, follow the predictable path through their subject’s life: birth, childhood, teens… building the story through the stages of life until the focal period is reached – Shakespeare’s writing prime, Darwin’s epiphany before he wrote Origin, Einstein’s period of cosmological insight, Patton’s WWII activities, Nixon’s presidency, Hudson set adrift on the bay – there’s always a particular someplace the author wants to take us. Someplace that every other line in the book leads to; someplace that justifies all the rest of the writing.
Biographies are, too, interpretations; a form of storytelling designed to lift or tear down the subject for the audience. To reaffirm or demolish the image others (and history) have built around them. And to shore that view up through the bricks and mortar of fact and (allegedly) objective data.
Most of my biographies are about scientists, politicians, kings and queens, writers, warriors, explorers. Very few seem to be about philosophers (Montaigne excepted). Which is one reason I picked up James Miller’s 2011 book, Examined Lives, in which he looks at twelve philosophers – not just who they were and how they lived, but how that influenced what they thought. I wanted to flesh out my rather thin knowledge about these people: Socrates, Plato, Diogenes, Aristotle, Seneca, Augustine, Montaigne, Descartes, Rousseau, Kant, Emerson and Nietzsche.
(You might note that my happy discovery of Montaigne among them helped incur my interest in the rest…). Yes, they are all men, all Western philosophers, and it’s a very personal selection, not entirely representative of the long trends and history of Western philosophy. Miller explains why he chose them, why he wrote this book, Examined Lives, and why philosophy is important to us today, in this radio interview:
Surely we can’t know them through fully biography alone; only know of them. But does knowing what Descartes ate, or where Montaigne wrote, or when Nietzsche went for his daily walks help us understand their thinking? Perhaps, if a causal link can be demonstrated (and that events and thoughts are not simply synchronistic) we can connect the dots. Miller helps us do that.
For some time before I got this book, I’ve been aware that there is more to olive oil than meets the eye. Or tongue. How much more really was startling. When I started reading Tom Mueller’s 2012 book, Extra Virginity: the Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, I was simply amazed at how little I really knew about the stuff (and of course you already know how much I love learning new things).
Recently, the good folks at the Collingwood Olive Oil Company (on St. Marie St) gave us a brief introduction and tasting of real extra-virgin olive oils (and continue to educate my palette every time I encounter them)*.
That’s a key step: tasting the good stuff. Once you do, tasting the usual supermarket oil seems like drinking 10W-40. You can’t go back.
When you sample real, fresh extra virgin olive oil, you wake up to an entirely new taste sensation. It’s not just a lubricant: there are flavours here, a multitude of them: rich, delicate, earthy, vegetal, crisp, citrus, peppery… That’s when you realize that, like you discovered with good wine and premium tequila, there are finer oil products than you’ve been buying at the supermarket and it’s time to learn about them. Thus begins your journey into this new world.
That journey, by the way, isn’t inexpensive. Quality comes with a price. Be prepared to pay premium prices for premium, authentic products. But, like premium 100% agave tequila, it’s worth it.
My relationship with olive oil started like yours probably did: buying olive oil in supermarkets, not really knowing what the various terms meant (what exactly does “extra virgin” mean?) or how to judge the difference between mediocre and quality oils. Picking brands by labels or familiarity or price. Not appreciating that olive oil is not the same as canola or sunflower or corn oil. Not really noticing a difference in flavour or aroma between them.
Muller writes on his website that what we expect from an oil’s taste may not be telling us which is best:
Bitterness and pungency are usually indicators of an oil’s healthfulness. Sweetness and butteriness are often not… Don’t be put off by bitterness or pungency – remember that these are usually indicators of the presence of healthful antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and other healthful “minor components” of top-quality olive oil – unless one of these characteristics is overwhelming and disproportionate to the others.